The Monkey King is coming to Roosevelt Island’s Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance this spring – but it won’t be stopping there.
The musical, The Monkey King: A Kungfusical, is a new work from MST&DA’s new assistant executive director, Kimbirdlee Fadner, and her husband, composer Jonathan Fadner. It will be performed for the first time by the MST&DA children’s theater in May.
Last month, the pair was awarded a New Works grant by the Queens Council on the Arts to help fund a professional staging of the production in Queens, later in the year.
Kimbirdlee (left) and Johnathan Fadner run through the script with the children’s theater performers.
“It is such a great honor, getting the grant,” says Kimbirdlee Fadner. In addition to the $2,500 grant, the award provides recipients with administrative and advertising support as well as other help as needed. “We’ll still have more fundraising to do, but it’s a great start.”
The Monkey King is a retelling of an ancient Chinese legend about a mighty warrior who is born to lead his tribe to prosperity. In a modern twist, the tribe gets a shock when the newest monkey king turns out to be a girl.
“This is our way to get across the message that girls can do anything guys can do – but in a really fun and lighthearted way,” says Kimbirdlee.
The musical is inspired by a children’s book the couple used to read to their oldest son. Kimbirdlee Fadner, who is half Chinese, says she has long been fascinated by the mythology and imagery of the Chinese zodiac, which features prominently in her own Chinese brush paintings.
She says the story was also inspired by the current political and social climate in the country and her work last year at PS/IS 217, where she helped students write and stage an original play. “I was surprised to see that the kids all had a lot of strong feelings about the presidential election. That was the first lightbulb that went on – that there are important issues going on right now, and they’re not just for adults. Introducing these things [to the] young is how it’s actually going to make a difference in our culture.”
So far, she says, the young performers have loved being a part of the creative process. “Usually, as a kid, there’s a separation, as though people who write shows and make art are in a different world. But we’re doing it right next to them.”
Following the spring performances by the children’s theater, the Fadners plan to stage a workshop with professional adult actors in August. The play will then go to the Queens Theater in Flushing Meadows.
“We are so excited to be able to start this here,” says Kimbirdlee, “It’s a safe place to take some risks. [Executive Director] Kristi Towey has really supported us as artists. We couldn’t ask for more.”